Recent and unique, this breed descends directly from the wild cats (felines), but behaves as a domestic cat.
To breed a cat as beautiful as the wild felines, but sweet as the cats. This was the challenge faced by Jean Mill, who lives in California, USA, in order to breed the Bengal. It's a story that started 30 years ago, and envolves dedication, plus a little luck.
Jean, who majored in psichology and did graduate work in genetics, has always loved cats. In 1963 she bought an Asian leopard (Felis prionailurus bengalensis), a wild feline the size of a cat, found in Malasia, Bangladesh and India. It was a female, and she put it with a domestic cat. They had a hybrid kitten (coming from different species), which was named Kin Kin. The Asian leopard has the same number of chromossomes as the domestic cat, which is essencial, when they mate, to produce fertile cats. However, it is also mandatory that the genes of both animals be distributed in the chromossomes similarly, which not always happens. That is why Jean was amazed when Kin Kin, by her turn, gave birth to a beautiful brood. With the death of her husband, in 1965, Jean moved from the farm where she lived in Yuma, Arizona, to an apartment in California, and abandoned her hobbie. This experiment, therefore, has had no influence in the current blood lines of the Bengal.
Jean only went on with her work when she got married again. She moved to a small farm in 1975. At that time, researcher Willard Center-Wall bred Asian leopards with domestic cats in order to isolate the gene which made them immune to feline leukemia. Jean managed to start taking care of these kittens. In a trip to India, in 1980, she saw a cat on the street which resembled an Asian leopard. She took it to the USA, and bred it com as hybrid females. She called him Milwood Tory of Delhi.
In the process of breeding, Jean noticed that only some of the females were born fertile. Fertile males only appeared after the fourth generation. She bred several cats with markings, including Egyptian Mau and Ocicat. "By using them the genes which carry the typical characteristics of the wild cats are 'diluted,'" says Jean Mills. "We have enough markings, and we must settle the other items which garantee a wild appearance better." The Bengal can become even more similar to the Asian leopard, as the official standard demands. Jean explains that "some of the attributes are hard to obtain, such as small and round ears, very contrasting markings with spots which appear randomly or aligned horizontally."
Cats which descend directly from the Asian leopard acquire a trustworthy temperament after four generations. In the first one, they do not like to be held, but are sweeter than their wild ancestor, rubbing their bodies on the legs of the breeder, and allowing to pick them up for a short time.
The Bengal maintains the quick reflexes of his wild ancestor. But must, according to standard, inspire trust. They can demonstrate fear, try to free themselves and run away, without ever being threatening or show annoyance.
Alert, curious, it has a good disposition, and likes to play. "They love to move," says the breeder Marco Antonio de Assis Beja, of Cattery Charmant, Rio de Janeiro. "My bengals are so playful, they pry into shelves and knock down books." The breed is less noisy than others. But still, they purr, and mew, sometimes loudly, in a way that makes one remember their wild ancestors. They are affectionate towards the owner, and get along with other breeds. Marco Antonio comments that the kitten grows very fast, and demands the same care destined to other cats.
The bengal was only recognized by TICA - The International Cat Association, of the US, in may 1992. The other entities are still observing the breed, to verify if the wild temperament has been completely eliminated.
General Appearance: It must resemble an Asian
leopard. The head is large, longer than wider, with small ears, wide at the
base, and round at the top. Large and oval eyes, green or yellow. Long body,
with heavy bones. The extremity of the tail must be black; abomen with markings;
pads the same color of the body, and same color of the other paws.
Coat: Short, dense and smooth as silk, horizontally spread spots, preferably forming rosetts. Markings may resemble marble. Avoid white marks in the body and tabby mackarrel marking.
Bredings allowed: Only Bengal with Bengal.
Reading material: Bengal's Cats, Barron's Educational Series, Inc. 250 Wireless Blvd., Houppauge, NY 117888. Tel.: (0018120-92430) and (001800645-3476); Getting To Know The Bengal Cat, by Gene Johnson, 15448 Frenchtown Rd., Greenwell Springs, LA 70739; Breeding Better Bengals, by Jean Milles, 1412 Covina Hills Rd., Covina, CA 91724.
We would like to thank the people who collaborated and
worked on the text editing; the text was also reviewd by the Brazilian breeder
and by Zillah Ayalla, genealogic director of FCGB - Federação dos
Criadores de Gatos do Brasil, affiliated to TICA.
Research: Carmen Olivieri.Text: Marcos Pennacchi
Picture: Fernando Torres de Andrade
Owner: Cattery Charmant